While 2019 was pretty tame in terms of out-of-the-box tech innovations, 2020 has a few tricks up its sleeve to pique interest. 2019 brought us phones with foldable screens and 5G (spoiler alert), though they didn’t make as much of a splash as expected.
Here are 5 tech developments to look forward to, in no particular order.
The “AI-as-a-Service” (AIaaS) business model continues to find growing success in all facets of commerce, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the technology sector. As such, it was only time until the concept of AI-as-a-Service would pick up eventually, and 2020 seems like it would deliver in that regard.
Given that AI is still quite a novelty, at least in its most advanced forms, the technology is still quite expensive. Enter AI-as-a-Service, a business model that will allow companies to have access to the limitless potential and benefits of AI at a fraction of the true cost.
Services like Amazon’s “Amazon Web Services” and Google’s “Cloud Platform” continue to innovate the AIaaS field, offering predictive analytics, speech recognition, machine learning applications, and much more.
As the technology of AI improves in 2020, with a significant lean amongst business towards machine learning and predictive functionalities, AI-as-a-Service will only grow in prominence.
4. Blockchain will find more mainstream success
In the Middle East, we have seen countries like the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia take an open-minded approach to blockchain. From the expected financial applications, to applications in medicine and tourism, the region has truly grasped the potential of blockchain. Now, it is a matter of fully harnessing it.
GCC-based firm GOZO, for example, is the industry-first blockchain-enabled multi-token crypto wallet, loyalty reward points clearinghouse and travel club.
In the UAE, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) launched the first blockchain based system to save and share the assessment information of health professionals, including doctors, pharmacists and technicians with local licensing health authorities, which will help reduce the time and cost and improve efficiency and data integrity.
In the GCC, Bahrain has already been known as a prominent financial hub. In recent years, however, they’ve also taken the lead in terms of blockchain adoption and strategy, pushing the technology in multiple fields.
Similarly, as we near 2021, the UAE’s Blockchain Strategy 2021 will near its goal of transforming 50% of government transactions into the blockchain platform by 2021.
Blockchain is here to stay, and the region is welcoming it with open arms.
3. 5G will begin to find its footing in 2020
While great things were expected of 5G in the running up to its release in the Middle East, not much came out of it this year. To be fair, as is the case with most new technologies, we need to allow for the consumer adoption period, as 5G is still very new and there isn’t enough infrastructure to support it just yet.
The UAE’s Etisalat made history when it became the first Arab telecom firm to launch a commercial 5G network in the Middle East this year, but we have yet to see major applications based on the technology just yet. In October, Etisalat also successfully completed the first end-to-end 5G stand-alone call in the region and became the first operator in the MENA region to achieve the milestone.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about the potential of 5G. Even more so than blockchain, the applications of 5G are near infinite, enabling a faster, more efficient, and more connected society than ever before. From self-driving vehicles, to remote surgery and more, the sky is the limit.
Commercially, two things will likely happen in 2020. One, the price of 5G internet packages will likely drop slightly to help entice new customers. Secondly, prominent device manufacturers like Apple will likely push 5G devices more aggressively. Given the general lack of innovation in the smartphone and personal devices sectors, 5G poses an easy opportunity for manufacturers to tout the innovation claim.
“Gartner analysts expect smartphone sales to grow again in 2020, driven by broader availability of 5G models and the promotion of 5G service packages in various parts of the world by communications service providers (CSPs),” research firm Gartner said this year. “Analysts also expect the first 5G Apple iPhone to launch in 2020, which should entice iPhone users to upgrade.”
2. Voice search will lead on mobileWhen we spoke with SEMrush’s Head of Communications, Fernando Angulo, back in August, he had a bold statement to make regarding where the SEO field is heading in the UAE in the next 5 years:
“Voice search will be the primary search method used with mobile devices, be they a smartphone, a smart watch or even smart glasses. This will apply to the whole world and not just the UAE in the coming years.
“Voice search is definitely here to stay, and [continues to] be developed by companies like Google and Microsoft. It is the next big thing in the market.”
Voice search owes its complexity to AI and search engine trends, and continues to be a growing focus for companies worldwide. The technology likely received its greatest push with the release of Amazon’s Echo Dot personal assistant, whose resident voice persona Alexa brought the concept of voice search into our homes and into the mainstream.
Still, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as Angulo explains.
“Right now, the use of voice search is still pretty basic, asking simple questions like ‘What is the weather?’ or ‘What is the time?’ When we begin to develop more search queries based on conversations, with conversational search optimization, that’s when we’ll really arrive at something impressive. You’ll be able to talk and have a real conversation with your device.”
Research by OC&C Strategy Consultants last year found that voice shopping will grow to a whopping $40 billion-plus in 2022, up from $2 billion in 2018 across the U.S. and the U.K.
2020 will show a further push towards this figure.
1. Facial recognition applications will grow
Facial recognition is one of the technologies of the future that holds some of the greatest potential. While we are generally using it for trivial things like unlocking our phones with our faces or for applying filters to our faces on Snapchat, it is finding heavy commercial use in a myriad of industries.
In Dubai International Airport (DXB), for example, biometric scanners that run passengers’ faces through facial recognition software were installed last year, and have made travel a much smoother process for the 89 million passengers that travel through DXB every year.
In retail, it is used to ID the faces of customers entering a store, registering their age, demographic, and other information as part of the sea of data shops now have on their customers.
“The ability of the best algorithms to match a new image to a face in a database improved 20-fold between 2014 and 2018,” Josh Davis, a psychologist at the University of Greenwich who works on facial recognition in humans and AIs, told The Guardian.
As this technology continues to improve at this exponential rate heading into 2020, facial recognition will become highly ubiquitous, and potentially as common as CCTV.